It started out as one painting with a rat creature from the comic-book series Bone, but Maple’s street art rendering suddenly became a collaborative project Saturday involving four artists on the outside wall of Fleet Galleries on Albert Street.
A professional street artist from Georgia, Maple is one of 13 street or graffiti artists in Winnipeg for the first Paint the Peg urban art initiative (@paintthepeg on Instagram).
Using spray paint, the artists were spending Thursday through today in the Exchange District painting custom designs on the walls of buildings the owners of which are on board with the project. The idea is to beautify urban spaces while raising the profile of street and graffiti art.
Maple and three other artists were painting their own designs within the Bone theme and connect the designs along the length of the wall.
"Yesterday we went for a walk to the comic book store for some inspiration and references… the wall was already painted black when we arrived so to capitalize on it, this (Bone design) already had a lot of black," said Maple, who is based in Atlanta and provides professional graffiti art services to movie companies three to four times per year.
"There’s just that sense of community (among the artists). I met up with one guy here that I first met 15 years ago."
The project, spearheaded by Cash Akoza, is bringing colour, creativity and light to several walls in alleys and side streets in the downtown area where people might otherwise fear to tread.
"This year we brought artists from across Canada and the United States; we got the best of the best," said Akoza, whose brother and father, Jeff Gasenzer, Jr. and Sr., own Fleet Galleries. It hosted an art show on Saturday night featuring work of the Paint the Peg artists.
Akoza said he had painted many of the walls himself in the area in past years so the spots were "locked down." Building owners were consulted for permission to have the artists’ new designs on the walls.
"We’re really about giving back to the neighbourhoods. We’re not making any money on this; we just want to have this display for the city for people to come out and enjoy it and inspire the youth in the next generation," Akoza said. "This is how I got inspired. My father inspired me by introducing me to artists all my life as I was growing up and so I just want to do the same for the kids coming up now."
He said graffiti festivals and mural festivals have become popular in cities around the world.
"We’re not doing anything new here, but our focus is bringing graffiti and street art together," he said.
Smug, a street artist from Toronto who is participating in Paint the Peg, said collaboration on the Fleet Galleries wall wasn’t planned but took on a life of its own.
"The one guy had the theme and we’ve all just picked up on that. We’re all just basically freestyling it but it kind of has a plan as we go," he said. "We don’t really know what it’s going to look like but we have an idea of where we’re going."
Maple said having Paint the Peg be a curated project, rather than just random graffiti, opens up urban spaces to art that can be widely shared and draws people to it.
"I think it’s important to have a little bit of curation with the graffiti when it’s happening on somewhere like this because then you can yield better results for people to look at," said Maple, who has been painting with spray paint for 20 years.
"Sometimes, if it’s just graffiti soup, it can be hard for the people that aren’t involved in this small subculture. It can be a bit confusing. It’s better if there’s a direct delivery, and there’s a chance for the artists to promote themselves a bit."
Paint the Peg, which wraps up today, is being presented by the Higher Learning Foundation, a charitable foundation that works with high school students by giving them the ability to earn scholarships by participating and volunteering in the community.
"Next year, we want to incorporate art students into our Paint the Peg event," said Trisha Kulathungam, (@higherlearningfoundation on Instagram), who has been running the foundation for the past five years. "An art festival like this really showcases all the multiculturalism in Manitoba… and really proves to people just how much of a tourist attraction downtown Winnipeg can be."
Akoza said next year’s event will be billed as Paint the Peg International and include artists from outside North America.
Ashley works the general assignment beat.